Brownlee queries council's Town Hall decision

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 14:15 22/11/2012
Chch town hall
Dean Kozanic

UNANIMOUS: The city council has voted unanimously to save the Christchurch Town Hall.

GIFTED: Sir Miles Warren at Ohinetahi.
DAVID ALEXANDER/Fairfax NZ
ARCHITECT: Sir Miles Warren says the town hall is the "pride and joy" of Christchurch.

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Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is not ruling out overriding the city council's plan to save the Christchurch Town Hall.

Brownlee told The Press today that further discussions were needed with the council, after he heard that councillors voted unanimously to spend an estimated $127.5 million on repairing the town hall.

"My understanding was it was a very compromised building left in a pretty disastrous state and the preliminary that the ground was sitting on was in a pretty bad state as well," Brownlee said.

"They might know more than we do. We'll have to talk to them over the next short while to see what their intentions are."

He said he was not ruling out the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority overriding the council's decision.

"It is inside the CBD perimeter and would therefore have to be part of the CBD plan. We'll just talk to them over the next short while to get a better understanding of why they've made such a big commitment to such a damaged building," he said.

"We've got to have a talk about it all."

Brownlee said he believed the councillors had made the decision without all the relevant geotechnical information.

"I have heard post-decision that they haven't got the geotech information just yet so if the decision is contingent on that, those sort of decisions have to be talked through."

The decision would also affect the future of the performing arts hub outlined in the central city blueprint.

"We've got to work out the consequences are. If you've got the town hall being saved then the performing arts centre would not be a top priority."

The estimated $127.5m repair cost will be spread over four years and will be offset by an insurance payout of about $69m.

Council staff had recommended saving only the main auditorium of the town hall. That idea was firmly rejected late last month by the council's community recreation and culture committee, which voted unanimously to recommend the council save the entire complex.

This morning the full council endorsed the committee's decision in a unanimous vote.

Addressing councillors ahead of the vote Sir Miles Warren, who designed the town hall along with Maurice Mahoney, said it would cease to be "the pride and joy'' of Christchurch if part of it was demolished.

"The town hall is a unified complex with three main components ... all related to each other. One cannot remove a third of the building without losing its aesthetic appeal,'' he said.

Associate Professor Ian Lochhead told councillors that for many Christchurch citizens the town hall meant more to them than any religious building.

No other New Zealand building had had an influence on world architecture comparable to that of the town hall, Lochhead said.

Sir Harold Marshall, who designed the town hall's world-acclaimed acoustics, said the town hall was the finest piece of architecture built in New Zealand in the latter half of the 20th century.

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"I would urge you to maintain the whole of that complex. This is a true taonga (treasured thing) for Christchurch and it should be recognised as such,'' Marshall said.

Cr Yani Johanson urged councillors to give the community - and the Government - certainty over the future of the town hall, saying it was one of the most important decisions the council had been asked to make on a facility since the earthquakes.

"It is my strong belief that retaining the town hall to 100 per cent of new building standard is the right way to go. This is a special place,'' Johanson said.

Cr Peter Beck said the council had an opportunity to "hold onto something so important to the life of the city'' and he wholeheartedly supported saving the town hall.

Cr Tim Carter said he "supported enthusiastically'' the option of saving the town hall but was worried that costs could escalate as further investigations were done on the land beneath it.

- The Press

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